Three Sport Loop: Lake Chelan – Washington Pass – Methow and Columbia Vallys (aka The “Everything’s Coming Up Milhouse” Tour)

We recently completed an awesome loop trip in the east and north Cascades. We kayaked from Manson (near Chelan) to Stehekin, hiked through to Highway 20, and then cycled from there back to our start in Manson. Mileages were 46, 21, and 105 respectively, totaling 172. We didn’t rush and did the trip in 8 days (could be done shorter or longer). I enthusiastically recommend this trip if you like to combine multiple sports and get a good weather window (especially for the paddling portion). Watching the landscape slowly change from desert to mountains and back is a big highlight of this route as well. Click here for the full set of pictures. 

Day 0 was a driving day (not included in the 8). We dropped our bikes and biking gear in the woods above the Bridge Creek trailhead (locked to a tree with a tarp on top) and drove to Chelan to take care of last minute things. We stored our car at Mill Bay Marine ($5/day) in Manson where Andrea was a huge help to us. Logistics of this and the kayak return took some prep and some helpful Chelan locals.

Finishing the drive to Manson from Chelan got our nerves going. Our primary worry for the trip was the north-prevailing winds that kick up on the lake. Driving along the lake that day the wind was blowing a steady 20-30mph and boats on moorings looked like fishing bobbers - not good. Driven by many reports that winds on Lake Chelan are typically calm in the early morning and kick up in the afternoon, we woke up at 4:30am the next day with the intent of paddling absurdly early and being off the water by the early afternoon each day. We were pretty dismayed to hear the wind still blowing hard outside our tent, but it calmed down a little as we prepped and as it would turn out, despite some early morning gusts on the first day, and some afternoon gusts on day two, we experienced extremely good weather for paddling including a perfect final day. If you need a wind forecast, I highly recommend (plus it’s a visually hypnotic website). Positive weather was a big contributor to our success paddling up lake. I do not recommend paddling up lake with a windy forecast.

View of our kayak from our spectacular campsite at Deer Point

The kayak we used was a sit-on-top tandem Ocean Kayak Malibu Two XL. It’s almost impossible to sink and had plenty of space for our gear, but we might not recommend a sit-on-top for earlier in the season since the lake water can be cold. We had no problems given it was late August and afternoon temps pushed 90. Along Lake Chelan there are a bunch of first-come first-served campsites (see brochure). The sites were surprisingly spectacular and boat traffic along the lake was far below expectations. The paddling portion took three, 4-7 hour days and we camped at Deer Point, Domke Falls, and Purple Point (Stehekin). We saw maybe 5 or 6 power boats each day and met only one other kayak party (who didn’t venture far up lake) over three days. Granted, two of our three nights were weeknights, but the remote feeling along the lake was a pleasant surprise to us. We also experienced the solar eclipse from our kayak in the lake which was really cool.

Arriving in Stehekin, we transitioned to hiking. Since we were unable to find a friend willing to paddle the boat back, we had arranged for the Lady of the Lake ferry to freight our kayak back to Chelan and store it for us until we returned. The Lady of the Lake does the freighting as a service for $0.85/cubic foot. The storage we begged for, but Shannon at Lady of the Lake was incredibly accommodating. We also sent back our dry bags, paddles, and PFDs tied securely to the boat.

One of the endless spectacular views from Stehekin, WA

The hiking portion of the trip was pleasant and uneventful (minus a minor rattlesnake encounter 20 minutes in). We took the Stehekin shuttle to the upper Rainbow Loop trailhead and hiked through to the Bridge Creek Trailhead via Rainbow Creek and McAlester lake trails, overnighting at McAlester Pass. McAlester Pass has a beautiful meadow while most of the rest of the route is forested. We camped at High camp instead of McAlester Lake and were rewarded with solitude overnight. We popped out of the woods early in the evening on day 5 of the trip, and decided not to transition to biking until the next morning so we just camped at the Bridge Creek trailhead.

Hiking out of "High Camp" at McAlester Pass
After a 4-sting encounter with a beehive, we recovered our bikes from the woods. They were unharmed after 5 days. Starting at Bridge Creek meant we had to start with a 1000’ ascent to the top of Washington Pass, but the promise of a 6000’ descent to return to Chelan made that real easy to swallow. Wow! I’ve splitboarded at WA Pass and driven over the pass many times, but cycling is just a different pace and it was a phenomenally fun thing to take in that kind of scenery while cruising downhill at 20-30mph. We decided since we were ahead of schedule not to rush the biking portion of our trip. We overnighted in Twisp (Idle-a-While motel) and in Pateros (the highly recommended Lake Pateros Motor Inn). Both towns offered really nice people, cold beer and decent food.

Cycling down Washington Pass is an amazing experience. The Liberty Bell, Early Winters Spires, and "The Hairpin Turn" reside in the background.

One thing that struck me about the biking was that I was so focused on our descent from Washington Pass itself that I never considered how beautiful the other biking sections would be. The stretch from Winthrop to Pateros meanders back and forth through ranch and farm land over the Methow River and from there back to Chelan you snake up and down mellow hills in the desert over the Columbia. The amount of downhill riding for these three days was crazy! I felt like I barely needed to pedal until our final day. Traffic was worst on Highway 97, but not terrible and there are some beautiful side roads you can use to avoid the highway in some sections (see our GPX track). It was a ton of fun. 

I’m sure each section of our trip has been done before many times but I’m wondering if anyone knows if someone has ever combined them as a loop. Regardless, this was a long trip for us so putting together the logistics and watching it come to fruition was great. Highly recommended!

Trip Overview – 172 Miles, 8 days:

Kayaking – 46 miles, 3 days
Day 1: Manson (Mill Bay boat launch) to Deer Point – 18 miles
Day 2: Deer Point to Domke Falls – 16 miles
Day 3: Domke Falls to Stehekin – 12 miles

Hiking – 21 miles, 2 days
Day 4: Stehekin to High Camp (McAlester Pass) – 10 miles
Day 5: High Camp to Bridge Creek Trailhead – 11 miles

Biking – 105 miles, 3 days
Day 6: Bridge Creek Trailhead to Twisp – 41 miles
Day 7: Twisp to Pateros – 35 miles
Day 8: Pateros to Manson – 29 miles



  1. Beestings...snakes...bobbing on the lake...whew. You guys are brave!


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